The 1980s and 1990s were a time of rising drug-related violence in America.
As a reaction to the perceived threat, lawmakers made a surprising offensive
in the War on Drugs. They began to pass mandatory sentencing laws for
drug crime offenders.
Mandatory sentencing laws are statutes that dictate minimum prison sentences for
drug offenses, even if the accused is a first-time or nonviolent offender. Often, these
minimum sentences call for months or years of prison time.
Mandatory sentencing laws have been controversial for years, and opponents
of the statutes claim that the laws take power away from judges and force
them to hand down punishments that may be harsher than they believe is
necessary. Mandatory sentencing laws have also been accused of engendering
ill-will against our nation’s police forces, as those prosecuted
feel they have been unfairly treated. Finally, opponents have criticized
the laws for disproportionately affecting low-income and minority people,
making it difficult for them to improve their economic situation.
Recently, President Obama made a surprising announcement in response to
these complaints. He unveiled a plan to remove mandatory sentencing from
our nation’s courtrooms, allowing nonviolent first-time drug offenders
to avoid hard time. He instructed federal prosecutors file their charges
in such a way as to avoid incurring the mandatory sentence. Experts say
prosecutors would likely accomplish this by omitting the quantity of drugs
involved in the case from official court documents. This measure would
effectively sidestep the mandatory sentencing laws.
Despite the predicted demise of mandatory sentencing laws, drug offenses
will remain a serious black mark on a person’s record, one that
can have a long-term effect on the jobs one can apply for and the educational
opportunities available. If you have been accused of a drug offense, you
have the right to defend yourself in a court of law with the help of an
attorney, which can reduce or eliminate the charges you are facing.
Reuters, “U.S. moves to curb long, mandatory drug sentences” Dan Levine and David Ingram, Aug. 12, 2013